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Undue Hardship

What is undue hardship?

Undue hardship is a legal and ethical concept that generally refers to a significant difficulty or expense an organization might face in providing accommodations for an individual with a disability or other specific needs. The term is commonly associated with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination in the workplace against people with disabilities.

The determination of undue hardship is done on a case-by-case basis. Key factors taken into consideration are the nature, cost, and impact of the modification on an organization’s operations. It’s important to note that an employer is not required to make unreasonable or unnecessary accommodations if an employee can perform their job without the specific change(s).

What determines an undue hardship?

Although the factors that determine undue hardship under ADA are made on a case-by-case basis, some scenarios to consider are:

  • Nature and cost of the accommodation: An excessive expense or the complexity of the accommodation largely determines whether it is considered an undue hardship.
  • Financial resources of the business: A smaller business with limited financial resources may demonstrate undue hardship by proving its inability to afford the necessary changes or modifications. 
  • Impact on the business operations: If the accommodation would greatly disrupt the operations of a business it could be an undue hardship. For instance, the installation of special equipment in a warehouse that would lower productivity.
  • Safety considerations: Accommodations that pose a safety risk either to the individual with a disability or other employees might be considered undue hardship. This is particularly relevant in environments where specific physical or health standards are required for safety reasons.
  • Overall size of the business: The bigger the business, the higher the expectations of making a reasonable accommodation that requires more effort or expense versus a smaller business with fewer available resources.
5 factors that determine an undue hardship.

Undue hardship examples

Here are some real-word examples of undue hardship in a workplace environment:

  • Buying specialized equipment: A small business owner may argue that purchasing a wheelchair-accessible van for an employee with limited public transport options is an undue hardship. The owner would need to demonstrate that purchasing and maintaining the van would cause a great financial burden.
  • Health and safety concern: A request to remove all latex products from a workplace because a worker has a severe allergy could cause health and safety risks to other employees. Since latex gloves are used by many employees for everyday duties, it could lower safety standards.
  • Disruption of business operations: A business owner might claim that allowing a service dog in a sterile laboratory or manufacturing plant where cleanliness is paramount could disrupt essential operations.
  • Impact on other employees: Exempting an employee from doing night shifts because of a health condition would mean other employees have to take on the extra shifts to accommodate the individual with a disability. This change could disrupt the other worker’s work-life balance, family commitments, and potentially their health

How can HR prove undue hardship?

When it comes to proving undue hardship, HR professionals need to carefully evaluate each situation on a case by-case basis. Here are some common situations that demonstrate undue hardship:

1. Detailed financial analysis

Employers must show detailed proof of the financial impact of the accommodation on the organization. The evidence should include the cost of the accommodation in relation to the company’s size, financial resources, number of employees, and overall budget.

2. Operational impact assessment

The employer should assess how the accommodation would affect the business operations. This involves determining if the changes or modifications would significantly change the nature of the business, disrupt workflow, or impact employees’ ability to do their jobs.

3. Seeking expert advice

Get advice from financial experts, legal advisors, and disability accommodation specialists to assess the possibility and impact of an accommodation. This will help HR make more objective decisions.

4. Evaluating alternatives

Before making an undue hardship claim, employers must explore alternative accommodations that would meet an employee’s specific needs without causing a significant burden. For instance, providing a transportation reimbursement could be a reasonable accommodation before deciding it poses an undue hardship. 

HR needs to stay informed about the relevant legal guidelines and laws associated with undue hardship. By aligning accommodation considerations with established legal standards, they can support their decisions and minimize legal risks.

HR tip

To deal with the complexity of undue hardship situations, HR professionals will need to engage in open and honest communication with employees to understand their needs. Working together with the employee to decide on the most effective solutions may be the best way to ensure the process is fair. It’s also critical that HR professionals carefully document the undue hardship process to ensure compliance with legal requirements.

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